'Fallout 76' Beta Impressions: So Far, So Good

My first impression of the Fallout 76 beta is largely a good one. I spent four uninterrupted hours in the Appalachian wastes doing many of the things Fallout fans have come to love, namely looting junk while smashing bugs and mutated humanoids with melee weapons. But this time, I had to share the Wasteland with others and, like in life, not every interaction was pleasant. But I guess that's the point.

Fallout 76 beta impression review hands on demo 1
Bethesda Game Studios

'Fallout 76' Beta Impressions: The Good

IT WORKED! My expectations were low, admittedly, but I was pleasantly surprised with the overall stability of my beta experience. I logged in at 7 p.m. EDT and played all the way through the final countdown at 11 p.m. EDT (Bethesda kindly let us play until about 11:10 p.m.) I didn't get booted once, didn't sit in a long queue to get in and wasn't jarringly dropped at the end. Instead, there was a nice countdown clock.

The gameplay loop is peak Fallout . You acquire a handful of quests early on and your journey from A-to-B is peppered with environmental storytelling, found narrative and, yes, loot. The difference this time is the loot is up for grabs, literally. I found myself on the wrong end of a PvP attack and lost about an hour's worth of careful collecting. It was infuriating, frustrating and challenging on a level that doesn't exist in single-player Fallout . But in a game like this, a strong emotional reaction—even a negative one—is a sign the immersion is working. The stakes seem to matter.

Fallout 76 beta impression review hands on demo 2
Bethesda Game Studios

Bolstering said stakes were moments when I felt I had an impact on the world: namely, the discovery of a workshop. Unlike your personal camp, which allows you to build structures and crafting tables, Workshops also include resource harvesting of some kind. I took over a small food processing factory and, after constructing eight medium generators and a dozen automated turrets, had a machine turning out boxes of Blamco Mac and Cheese and InstaMash. (It also invited trouble, which is what got me into the PvP encounter where I lost all my things.)

Through it all I explored a world that is 100 percent Bethesda. It feels like Fallout , just as it should. The quirky humor punctuating grim moments, the gruesome creatures, ghastly ghouls and expansive horizons gave me plenty of nostalgic feels. And those feels are the biggest liability in Fallout 76 right now.

'Fallout 76' Beta Impressions: The Bad

Fallout 76 beta impression review hands on demo 3
Bethesda Game Studios

I played through most of my beta experience with a co-worker who has never played Fallout. He has played a ton of online multiplayer games though, and if it weren't for him I don't think I'd have realized the biggest challenge Fallout 76 has: reaching new players. There's no doubt Fallout 76 is going to attract people on hype alone, especially those who almost exclusively stick to online multiplayer titles. The world of Fallout is a welcome one for old fans, we have long memories and hundreds of hours immersed in previous titles. Things make sense to us straight away. For new players though, Fallout comes up a bit short.

New players also won't be as impressed by the world-building, largely because they don't know how to experience it. Fallout has an aesthetic meant to be digested over a long period of time, which might not work for new players looking for a strong first impression. The name of the game is loot and level up, and with no pause feature there's no tactical reason to stand around reading all those notes and terminal entries that add so much lore and atmosphere.

Combat is a concern. Previous Fallout games offered the V.A.T.S. system, which allows players to pause combat and target enemies, often accompanied by limb-severing splatter effects. The V.A.T.S. system in Fallout 76 doesn't pause anything, and as a result is disorienting and cumbersome. New players get virtually no explanation of how it works. I barely used it myself, instead relying on traditional combat. And here, Fallout pales in comparison against many other online multiplayer games. If you're used to, say, Overwatch or Fortnite , the mechanics of Fallout 76 seem clunky. Granted, this game is meant to be more RPG than FPS, but players used to high-octane action won't find much to hang on to. Enemy AI is also pretty weak, although that could be a factor of being in early game zones. Still, I single-handedly handled a horde wave event just by crouching in the back of a room while Scorched ran in single file toward my gunfire.

Fallout 76 beta impression review hands on demo 4
Bethesda Game Studios

Even PvP feels chaotic instead of crisp. I won a few fights, mostly because I used melee and ran circles around my opponent who was trying to sight me with his gun. And the liability of loot in these encounters isn't clearly defined. Seasoned Fallout players should be aware there is no workshop stash. So when you scrap all your junk, that stuff stays on you. You have to manually put it into a stash chest to protect it. I learned that the hard way.

'Fallout 76' Beta Impressions: The Bugly

No Fallout 76 beta impression would be complete without a little bit of bug reporting. Fortunately, my experience was relatively stable. The only recurring bug I encountered were invisible enemies. Their health bars would show up, we'd be fighting, but I couldn't see them. Just swinging my serrated machete into thin air and hoping it makes contact. I also had a mole rat event at my workshop that went very sideways. Mole rats weren't coming out of the ground so the horde wave wouldn't complete. Eventually things resolved, though.

There was also a fair amount of lag/chug when switching from the Pip Boy menu back to gameplay, and plenty of weird clipping issues. I saw more than a few enemy body parts go flying into the air or glitching through a wall or doorway. I'm sure there's plenty of other wonky bugs out there for Bethesda to squash, but mine were all pretty minor.

Fallout 76 beta impression review hands on demo 5
Bethesda Game Studios

'Fallout 76' Beta Impressions: Final Verdict

Despite what I consider to be a step learning and interest curve for new players, Fallout 76 is off to a good start. It's impossible to judge where the game evolves from here after just one beta, but I would've played long into the night if I could have. Anytime a game compels me to sacrifice sleep, I know it's doing something right. I'm curious how the game will take shape once we're all off on different paths and not spamming the same missions over and over. I don't like seeing clumps of people around the same quest points, it kills the vibe.

So for now I'm waiting for Saturday, when we get to experience the next beta test from 5 - 7 p.m. EDT. I have a workshop to defend, ammo to craft and a nemesis out there somewhere walking around with a pile of my stuff.